President Raines, Provost Faudree, distinguished Guests, Graduating class 2010:
In my wildest dreams I could not imagine that one day I will stand before a graduating
class in the United States to give the graduation speech. If somebody had told me
at my own graduation ceremony at the Technical University of Budapest in 1971 or even
more than 20 years later when I became a full professor at that school that I would
stand in the FedEx forum to give the commencement address at the University of Memphis
I would not believe them. Those days, I thought that things such as that only happened
in the movies. Those days, I thought that Hollywood stories of success were not real
and were told only because as long as we have dreams we do not have to face the daily
realities. However, as you can see, I am here, and I want to tell you that sometimes
even the wildest dreams become true. In my case, the fulfillment of these dreams required
the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Hungary my native country, had to change to
a democratic country. In those days, I did not know that all these global events might
mean that, one day, I could speak to you on this day of celebration.
I am telling my story on this very special day of your life because I truly believe
that you have everything you need to realize your dreams. Your education at this school
provides you all the tools that you need. To support this statement let me share with
you two stories that were told to me by my teachers because these stories influenced
my own scientific carrier and personal life.
Dr. Ernö Lindner
I graduated from a five-year engineering college in Budapest. At my university, the
lectures were given in big auditoriums and young faculty or graduate students conducted
the group practices. During my five years, I hardly met some of the big name professors
of our school. Therefore I was very excited when during my MS thesis work one of these
famous professors stopped by my workbench and showed interest in my work and excitement
about the results. Later he invited me to his office, suggested some readings and
we discussed not only science but also history and literature. I was sometimes embarrassed
because I felt that he knew all the answers to my questions. He could cite countless
papers related to my work, which enhanced my lines of inquiry or questioned the validity
of my assumptions. I felt that there was so much to learn that I would never be able
to catch up and contribute something important. He might have felt that I became discouraged
during our discussions, and one time he told me that almost all big discoveries that
made really revolutionary changes were made by young scientists who dared to think
differently. He told me that older professors are less likely to try completely new
things because their thinking is chained to old doctrines and because they know how
many of their famous colleagues had tried the same without success. On the other hand,
he said, young scientists often see only the limitless possibilities, and they are
very courageous. So, first study and learn from those who have come before you, but
second, be courageous and believe in your own potentials.
The second story I want to share with you today came from my high school history teacher.
It is about Albert Sweitzer the German/French humanitarian. Albert Sweitzer had a
Ph.D. in theology. He was preaching in the church and served as a high-ranking official
in his university. He was also an internationally recognized concert organist. At age 30 he went to medical school because he wanted to establish amedical mission in Africa. After receiving his M.D. he founded his hospital at Lambaréné
in French Equatorial Africa where he was a doctor, a pastor, an administrator of the
village, and a superintendent of buildings. From donations all over the world and
from his own resources from royalties and honorariums he expanded his hospital to
a 500-patient clinic. During his time in Africa, he and his wife were jailed as prisoners of war but never
gave up. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 and used his prize money to establish a hospital for the treatment of patients with leprosy at Lambaréné.
In one interview Albert Sweitzer was asked what guided him through his exemplary life
in which he dedicated all of his gifts and talents for helping those who needed the
most. In his answer he used the analogy of crossing a turbulent river by a boat to
a person’s life. He told that we fill up our boat with heavy loads before departure
and considered those loads our ideas when we are 18 years old: our compassion, empathy,
commitment for truth and a love of life. However, as we get deeper and deeper in the
water, each current tempts us and the turbulences become very scary. On the one hand
the temptations can be fame, power, or money. On the other hand, our lives can be
very scary when we lose our job, become sick or have to stand up for something that
is unpopular. These are the times when we start to get rid of those original loads:
we tend to give up some of our ideas from our youth. But Albert Schweitzer said, “life
becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier”.
He explained, that he could preserve and find success because he stuck to the ideas
he had as an eighteen years old.
This is what I wish to tell you also. You have the tools you need for success and
you have wonderful ideas. Use your talent and hold on to your beautiful ideas. You
will get the rewards from life.
Finally, let me add a small personal comment. In a few moments Dr. Faudree will ask
our guests to hold back some their excitements so that everybody can hear when his
or her name is read. I certainly agree with him, but at my graduation when my name
was read four beautiful blond girls were cheering very loudly. Everybody looked at
me and asked, who is this guy? They were my sisters. So when you are cheering for
your sons, daughters, boyfriends, and girlfriends, it always brings back these wonderful
memories. Have a good time. This is your day.